Today, Friday, May 21, 2021, students met on the steps outside of Samuel Phillips Hall dressed in black to support and stand in solidarity with Andover students who have been “othered” by the Andover Athletics program. The movement began this past Monday when Anna Hurd ’21, Abby Lamontagne ’21, Addy Fenton ’21, and Molly MacQueen ’21 walked out of their final week of Andover Girls Lacrosse to protest the unhealthy team culture upheld in the Andover Athletics department.
The four members of the team released a statement to the Andover community this past Wednesday, stating that their “departure was a direct response to the racism, homophobia, and classism upheld by both the lacrosse program and Andover Athletics.”
The statement continued, “We feel as though people are underrepresented, undervalued, and negatively impacted by the lack of diversity set forth by Andover Athletics. We feel as though many Andover athletics programs are not spaces where athletes can show up as their authentic selves, and that we believe must change.”
In response to the walkout, the Girls Lacrosse team has taken time to reflect on the culture within the team, according to Taylor Ware, Assistant Coach. In these conversations, they were joined by Linda Carter Griffith, Associate Head of School for Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness and Lisa Joel, Athletic Director.
“We have been fortunate to have had the chance to come together as a team Monday and then again on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon and have been grateful to [Griffith] and Ms. Joel joining us on both occasions. We have spent time processing together, supporting each other and digging deeper as individuals and as a team into the important work around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” wrote Coach Ware in an email to The Phillipian on behalf of the Girls Lacrosse coaching staff.
According to Coach Ware, while the coaches found pride in their players standing up for an important issue, they were saddened to see them depart from the team.
Coach Ware wrote, “As coaches, we were heartbroken that Abby, Addy, Anna, and Molly would be leaving our team and wished we had had a chance to engage in conversation with all of them around their concerns before losing them from the program. At the same time, we felt incredibly proud of them for taking a stand and drawing attention to these important matters. Andover works hard to encourage our students to find their voices and be agents of change and that is what they are doing.”
According to Hurd, the homogenous nature of many of Andover’s athletics teams has led to an uncomfortable environment that causes many students to be ‘othered.’ This feeling was echoed by Fenton who spoke to her specific experiences as a gay athlete.
“There is such a lack of diversity within Andover Athletics right now that has, especially with [the increased visibility of racial inequity] of the last year, made me particularly uncomfortable, but that is definitely something that we want to change and bring attention to,” said Hurd.
Fenton added, “[What’s important is] trying to change the culture around homophobia in locker rooms, or on the field, as jokes that people think are okay to make and continuing the conversations that are happening all over the school on this topic.”
Joel both respects and supports the four athletes’ decision to leave the team. According to Joel, these issues of “racism, homophobia, and classism” are prevalent within athletics—both at Andover and on a larger scale. However, Joel noted that the focus should be placed on how an institution can look to address these problems.
Joel said, “In my role as an Athletic Director and as my job as an educator at this school for almost 30 years, I aspire—in every space that students exist here, including in athletics—that they are free from racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, every single ‘ism.’ The important thing is when you find out they exist, what do you do? What have you done?”
Hurd felt that the four athletes’ message was not received with adequate care and attention, which she believes reflects the culture in Andover Athletics as a whole.
“I think the biggest frustration that I have felt is the lack of conversation and the lack of people that have reached out to us from the team to show us support. I think the hardest thing about that was that these are our teammates and these are kids we’ve spent the entire year training with, working with, playing with and I think a lot of the hostility that we received from the team or dismissal was really frustrating. But, I imagine that so many other teams would have similar reactions and I think that that’s something larger with Andover athletics that we’re trying to address: the culture of the teams,” said Hurd.
According to Lamontagne, in walking out from the team and releasing their statement, the four athletes hope to bring attention to reveal the inequities within athletics, a topic they feel must be more frequently discussed at Andover.
Lamontagne said, “We want to make sure that it’s known that this is a lot bigger than just Girls Lacrosse. Some of us are speaking on being a part of other programs and hearing things from other people that this isn’t an issue that solely stems from Girls Varsity Lacrosse. We’re just trying to make a point that we don’t stand for [inequity] here and it shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere.”
The lack of diversity within the team environment that Andover Girls Lacrosse members discussed is not isolated to Andover. In NCAA women’s lacrosse from 2012 to 2020, the percentage of athletes who identified as white has not dipped below 83 percent, and the percentage of head coaches who identified as white has not reached below 92 percent.
Within Andover, the athletic department has made efforts to increase diversity within the lacrosse program through the admissions process, according to Coach Ware. She stated that the program takes diversity, equity, and inclusion seriously within the sport.
Coach Ware wrote, “Our program along with the Shuman Admissions Office has worked to create partnerships with organizations to try to increase representation in our lacrosse program. We have also prioritized opportunities at every level of the sport to encourage new players without prior experience to learn the game, and Coach [Tracy] Ainsworth has been instrumental in this effort as our JV2 coach. We also utilize ongoing work across the greater lacrosse community in the many facets of the D.E.I. [(Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion)] effort in our sport.”
However, Hurd noted that a high density of recruited athletes are from the Massachusetts area, and she suggested a reorganization of recruitment pools to create more diverse teams. Hurd believes that Andover could better facilitate change by rethinking its existing recruitment process.
Hurd said, “One of the biggest things is just honestly changing the recruiting pools because I think we’re pulling a lot of kids from Massachusetts and it’s the same thing with the hockey team as well and so if you change the spaces that you’re drawing these kids from I think that will have a large impact on the kids that actually end up matriculating to the school.”
Lillie Cooper ’21, a Varsity athlete of color, agreed with Hurd in regards to an unhealthy team culture in the Athletic Department. Cooper believes that the organized Blackout on May 21 is only the beginning to achieving real change within the Andover Athletics program.
“While there are instances of problematic behavior and racism on Andover’s athletic teams, it’s important to pay attention to the team cultures within the athletics programs. It’s easy for harmful behavior and insensitive comments to circulate and go unchecked because of the largely homogenous nature of many of the Varsity teams. In my experience, this can create an isolating and uncomfortable environment for student-athletes of color,” said Cooper.
Echoing Cooper’s feelings of isolation, Henrique Chamon ’21, another Varsity athlete of color, believes that athletes of color have been undervalued in the Andover community. He hopes that with events such as the Blackout, athletes of color might have the chance to have their voices heard.
“There’s just a common feeling of exhaustion and tiredness amongst a lot of the Seniors and the Senior athletes of color… I have so much respect for the girls on the team who decided to step down and no longer participate in a program that a, either doesn’t care about them, or b, doesn’t share the same values with them,” said Chamon.
Joel believes that an important step in creating long-term change is focusing on improvements to the community, rather than blaming people for specific instances. She discussed how long-term change can only occur with a unified community.
Joel said, “By being distracted by the details, the group of people we want to keep moving forward start dividing. What we want this to be is a coming-together. What we know is this can’t just be a moment, it has to be something that in two months, in six months, in one year, we are still all in it together. What I hope is that our full community, including our students, can see this as a nod to ‘Yes, we all want to do better and we all play a role in it.’ But if we start finger-pointing or speculating, that’s where we’re going to lose momentum and go in the opposite direction of what the goals [are.]”
According to Hurd, while the four members who stepped down will graduate in just over two weeks, they hope that this walkout will spark change within Andover Athletics in upcoming years.
“We can’t lead any of these conversations, but again words weren’t doing it at this point—action needed to be taken. We’re really just hoping that the conversation can continue, acknowledging [the fact] that we’re Seniors and leaving in a couple of weeks, [we hope] that the athletic program will think very intently over [the] summer to implement actual action steps in the fall of 2021,” said Hurd.